A cannery is a facility designed for processing, canning and sealing large quantities of food. The two basic types are commercial canneries and community canneries, though some canneries operate as both. A commercial cannery prepares and cans food for vendors that will sell it on the commercial market. A community cannery provides facilities for farmers and other food growers to preserve large amounts of food for long-term storage. Starting a cannery requires a substantial investment in kitchen equipment, machinery and space.
Regardless of which type of cannery you decide to start, you need to obtain commercial kitchen space. A commercial kitchen is one that has been inspected for cleanliness by the health department and registered with the Food and Drug Administration. Although you could obtain warehouse space and have a kitchen installed, a simpler and more cost-effective method is to rent or purchase an existing commercial kitchen, such as an old restaurant, and add canning equipment, such as pressure cookers and sealers. Or you could check with a business broker to find out whether any canning facilities are for sale or lease in the area where you would like to operate.
Your canning kitchen will need to comply with all of the health, fire and safety codes in your jurisdiction and may require special licensing, such as food handlers' licenses for you and your employees. Contact your local health department to determine all of of the licensing and inspection requirements for your location. Liability insurance can protect your bottom line in case of contamination or food poisoning. And you can structure your business as a corporation or limited liability corporation to protect your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit.
For a commercial kitchen, you will need to hire sufficient staff to operate the cannery, in which case you will also need to purchase workers' compensation insurance in case one of your employees is injured on the job. Some states also require additional disability insurance. Community canneries, on the other hand, are often staffed by volunteers, or they simply make the space available for customers to come in and can their own items. In this case you may only need to hire office employees to help with scheduling, billing and administrative tasks.
A commercial cannery will need suppliers. Before opening your business, you will need to find vendors to supply the items being canned. These might be food manufacturers, wholesale distributors or food importers. It might also be region-specific food industry suppliers, such as commercial fishing companies or farms. When dealing with food, some contracts might be seasonal, so you may need to plan for different types of suppliers to keep your cannery in business year-round.
If you decide to open a community cannery or to make your commercial cannery available for community use, you may be eligible for agricultural grants. The Small Business Administration is a good place to start searching for business grants; you should also check with your state’s Department of Agriculture to find out what’s available and whether your cannery business qualifies. Your local county commissioner’s office should be able to help.